A better, brighter future
Le Club de L’Espoir gives kids hope and opportunities to chart a new path
Municipal World is partnering with Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities to raise awareness about the program and the value it brings to communities, and to showcase the power of sport in effecting positive social change.
Last month’s article, “Helping New Canadians Feel at Home,” explored how sport can be used to integrate new immigrants – particularly children – into the community. Previous articles examined other benefits, including better academic and behaviour outcomes, as well as positive opportunities for neglected populations.
This fifth and final article looks at the power of sport to impact not only the lives of youth, but the community as a whole – using Le Club de L’Espoir, a program run by City of Montreal Police Service officers in St. Michel, Quebec, as an example.
For kids, the opportunity to participate in sport is about more than getting active. Sports equip kids for life by fostering self-esteem, developing pro-social behaviours, and teaching them important skills like courage, confidence, and teamwork. For kids from high-risk neighbourhoods, sport can be a catalyst for a change in trajectory toward success. That shift in trajectory can impact not only youth, but also bring about larger societal change to benefit the community as a whole.
However, there are many well-defined barriers that exist to getting kids active and involved in physical activity and sport. The mandate of Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities is to help remove some of those barriers. In recent years, Jumpstart has funded a unique and effective program in St. Michel, QC, the impact of which has benefited those enrolled, as well as the larger community.
Case Study: St Michel’s Le Club de L’Espoir
In the heart of Montreal is the community of St. Michel – the third poorest neighbourhood in Canada. With a population of just over 55,000, the community – made up of mostly low-income apartment housing – has very little green space. Because of this, kids spend much of their summer vacation loitering in the street to escape non-air conditioned apartments; during the winter months, the lack of extracurricular programming results in restlessness and boredom, which often leads to anti-social behaviour, including aggression and bullying.
Many financially-disadvantaged youth are at high risk for dropping out of school and joining local gangs because, unfortunately, gang life is often the only alternative to the realities of poverty and exclusion. Previous police efforts to fight and disband the gangs were unsuccessful; and, kids who ended up in prison typically came out tougher, due to contact with other criminals, perpetuating the problem for police and the community.
In 2011, the introduction of a new program offered positive opportunities for the community. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to rehabilitate youth and fight gang presence, the local police officers decided to take a different approach; instead of working against the gangs, they began to work with them. With the help of funding from Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, Montreal police officers at Station 30 implemented a program called Le Club de L’Espoir (The Hope Club), which offered soccer and basketball programs for local youth in community parks. The parks, which had previously been overrun by the gangs, were now host to games for the local kids. Since many of the gang members had younger siblings participating in the new program, they did not interfere during the activities. The parks quickly became much safer, and the success of the soccer and basketball programs led to the inception of the Contact Martial Arts Club. This provided dozens of youth with further options for physical activity in the community.
Since the programs began, the streets of St. Michel are much safer. Although gangs still exist, they now work alongside police officers to ensure the activities continue for their siblings. Gangs are also having a harder time recruiting new members, because the sports programs are now a more attractive extra curricular alternative. The park, once a dark and dangerous place, is now a safe, welcoming recreational space with synthetic turf and stands where kids meet to play.
Now, the police officers have the ability to encourage good behaviour. Prior to the club, many kids who acted out had nothing to lose, and were therefore hard to punish. However, that has changed. After a recent incident of bullying at the local elementary school, the police officer who was called to the school to assist, told the bullies that dealing with issues at school would cut into his availability to run the soccer program. In short, if the bullying didn’t stop, and the police officer was continually called into the school, the soccer program would be cancelled. This was not a threat, it was simply the truth. And, it was a major incentive that worked. The bullies immediately ceased their bad behaviour to save the program, either for themselves or their younger siblings who were benefitting.
The good behaviour extends beyond the walls of the school and into the community. For example, the Canadian Tire store in St. Michel had previously experienced serious and ongoing problems with theft; but, that has decreased dramatically since the program’s inception. According to police, the sentiment among the kids is to respect the store since the soccer, boxing, and summer camp programs wouldn’t exist without funding from Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities.
The success is evident for the individual children as well. Not only do they have a safe place to get active, but the activity is led by positive role models, whose presence no doubt changes the trajectory of their lives for good. Annie, a member of the kickboxing program for the past four years, is able to continue kickboxing outside of school thanks to Jumpstart funding; and, with the addition of two extra practices per week, she is now a brown belt. Beyond the obvious physical benefits, the program also helps foster transferrable skills such as leadership. Many of the kids from the soccer and boxing programs are employed at the summer camp, illustrating how kids who have positive role models can become positive role models themselves.
Le Club de L’Espoir’s success is the result of multiple organizations coming together for the greater good. Jumpstart has provided the funding since 2011, and has invested nearly $125,000 to help more than 1,500 kids register. The police officers give a considerable amount of their own free time to coach and run the programs; the officers at Station 30 have completely bought into the idea, going so far as to get support from the union, and change shifts and vacations to accommodate practice times.
“Providing positive programs for youth in St. Michel has created major changes in the community, the schools, and, most importantly, the lives of the kids,” said Sergeant Aniello Infante. “Thanks to the hard-working officers who volunteer their time, and our partners who provide funding, these kids have access to positive role models and the opportunity to develop skills that will get them, and keep them, on the right path for life.”
The program has caused a paradigm shift: police officers in full uniform often attend the boxing classes to watch and support the kids. These officers are no longer seen by the community as an imposing and intimidating presence, but as supportive coaches and mentors. The community is now a unified force for change thanks to the power of sport.
As this and previous articles have shown, there is little doubt that sports can be used as a force for positive social change in the community. The impacts on the lives of children can be phenomenal – including the development of social and leadership skills, enhanced educational opportunities, improved community safety, a sense of belonging, and much more – and, such benefits last well into the future. As Plato said, “the moral value of exercise and sports far outweighs the physical value.” Investing in youth early can create a snowball effect of positive impacts that can last for generations.
And, as shown, communities do not have to do it alone. Programs run successfully when multiple groups can invest time, resources, and expertise to help maximize success. Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities has proven to be an organization dedicated to helping youth sport in communities across the country, with over 1.3 million kids impacted to date. By working with Community Partners going forward, the hope is that more children can overcome the barriers that are in place, allowing sports’ positive impacts to be felt by all.
LANDON FRENCH is President of Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities , managing Canada’s largest portfolio of community partnerships, dedicated to removing financial barriers so kids across Canada have the opportunity to get off the sidelines and get into the game. Jumpstart’s core purpose is to enrich the lives of kids in need through sports and physical activity – assisting with the costs associated with registration, equipment and/or transportation, and helping kids explore a range of options by supporting over 70 different activities.
as published in Municipal World, April 2017